A Light Grilling

Daniel Brine, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the Cambridge Junction answers your questions

What inspired you to work in the arts? Did you grow up in an arty household?
I grew up in a household of architects. Four out of five of us studied architecture. I guess it was pretty arty. I grew up in Adelaide (Australia) where there is a fantastic arts festival. I saw amazing things without even knowing how good it all was including Peter Brook’s Mahabharata and Pina Bausch’s Kontakthof.

What are your all-time top 3 favourite works of art?
Too hard!  Here’s more than 3 (in no particular order):
Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Untitled (Perfect Lovers)
Gob Squad’s Super Night Shot
Hayley Newman’s Performancemania
Janine Antoni’s Lick and Lather
Teching Hsieh’s One Year Performance 1980–1981
La Ribot’s Más Distinguidas (Distinguished Pieces number 14 to 26)
Jerome Bel’s The Show Must Go On
Hannah Hurtzig’s Blackmarket for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge
Back to Back Theatre’s The Democratic Set

Give us a quick overview of your climb up the career ladder
Studied architecture. First job at the Australia Council (equivalent of Arts Council England) as an admin assistant. Studied for my Masters of Arts Admin while working full time at Oz Co. Got my first curatorial job as a curator looking at contemporary craft and how it was informed by interdisciplinary theory and practice. My first exhibition was HOMOcraft! Followed my partner to New York and was there for a year working at the American Craft Museum. Decided I liked being away from Australia and applied for a job at Arts Council England, which somehow I landed. Moved to London and was a Combined Arts Officer at ACE National responsible for the interdisciplinary and live art funding programmes. Spent a year as co-director of the NOW festival in Nottingham with Andrew Caleya Chetty. Joined the Live Art Development Agency as Associate Director where I spent eight years. Got a good break as Director of Performance Space in Sydney. Came back to the UK and Cambridge Junction.

You’ve worked in Australia as well as the UK. What are the most striking differences and similarities between the arts worlds in the two countries?
That’s a really difficult question because superficially the cultural scenes are similar but when you get to know them the differences are quite complex. If I had to choose a few of those complexities the first would be distance. Australia is a big place and most of it is pretty empty. This plays an important part in the Australian psyche but also has impact on things like touring. The question of distance also plays an important part in Australia’s ‘place in the world’ and Australia could realign itself within Asia. In the UK our position in Europe is a cultural blessing, with so much on our doorstep. Secondly, there are very different challenges around inclusivity of diversity and difference. Both the UK and Australia are increasingly multicultural societies but the cultural mixes are different. Australia has taken huge steps in acknowledging the traditional owners of the land but still has a long way to go. This cultural question is ever-present in Australia. Thirdly, there is a stronger sense and scene of collaboration in the arts in Australia. The reasons for this are complex and linked to the limited opportunities to show work and the way the Australia Council choses to invest in projects.

What most attracted you to working at the Cambridge Junction?
I really wanted to work in an arts centre because I am interested in how a venue can be part of a community. Cambridge seemed the right size and the right challenge at the right time.

What advice would you give an aspiring artist who wants to get their work on at the Junction?
I once did a video with my top tips for artists.  It’s still online at https://vimeo.com/12101228 and the advice is still sound.

What is a typical day in your role at the Junction like?
I’m officially Artistic Director and Chief Executive Officer. In my first three years here the business of the organisation has needed me to be more of a CEO. I’ve developed the role as a team leader working closely with people in all departments. Everyone knows their job and does it well, so my role is to make sure staff are happy, moving in the same direction and spending money wisely. I also take responsibility for stakeholder relationships (eg with the Arts Council and City Council) and work on the cross-organisation strategies and projects. A typical day is packed with emails and meetings.

What role does the Junction play within the community in Cambridge and beyond?
We have around 100,000 people come through our doors each year and that makes us an important place for gathering and socialising. I don’t underestimate the importance of this because there is a big challenge of quality of life for Cambridge citizens and I think we play a big part in making Cambridge a more enjoyable place to live. 

What do you most and least enjoy about your job?
I like working with artists because their vision helps me to see the world in different ways. Bureaucracy gets me down.

If you weren’t doing this job, what would have liked to do instead?
Secretly, I like to perform.

If money were no object, what would you do at the CJ (that you can’t do at the moment)?
We’d commission more artists – pumping money into the research, development and presentation of work. We’d make the city our venue with heaps of site specific and responsive works. We’d have a much bigger international programme, so the people of Cambridge could see the best contemporary performance from around the world.  We’d have a gallery dedicated to interdisciplinary practice. We’d use our money to build fantastic risk-taking partnerships across Cambridge – with the cultural sector but also with business. We’d have the most amazing talks and workshop programme. We’d have a team of artists making work with communities across Cambridge.

Have you been in any lifts since the incident at the season launch?
No. I went to see Of Riders and Running Horses on the second night and I definitely took the stairs.

Troop News goes out every month to Troop members. Send your ideas for articles and opportunities, and your production photos for inclusion, to Catherine Willmore by the third Wednesday of the month. (No issue Jan 2016)